Starting September 1st, 2013, the Texas Peer Assistance Program for Nurses (TPAPN) will significantly increase the length of their standard monitoring contracts. Previously an RN or LVN participant could expect to sign a two-year participation agreement while an Advanced Practice Nurse or CRNA would be asked to participate for three years. RN/LVN's and APN/CRNA's will now need to participate for three and five years, respectively. The new change applies to both nurses who enter TPAPN with or without an accompanying Board Order.
This policy change is probably meant to bring TPAPN more in line with the monitoring programs used by other Texas healthcare licensing agencies. For example, the Professional Recovery Network, which serves as the official peer assistance program for the Texas Pharmacy, Dental, and Veterinary Boards normally asks its participants to sign a five-year agreement. The Texas Physician Health Program also frequently makes use of a five-year agreement, although this can be much longer depending on the case.
While it is understandable why the Texas Board of Nursing would want to increase the standard timeframe for TPAPN participation, I have concerns as to how effective this change will be without corresponding reform of the TPAPN process. My firm has represented hundreds of nurses who have participated in TPAPN both with and without a corresponding Board Order. Many of these nurses have ended up in TPAPN even though they do not have a qualifying substance abuse, chemical dependency, or mental health issue. Usually this is due to the nurse believing they have no other option to retain their license and/or avoid action by the Board. This is oftentimes incorrect and our firm has helped numerous nurses achieve a better result.
This being said, for many nurses participation in TPAPN is a good option. TPAPN does provide a level of structure and direction which can be helpful to someone who is new to sobriety and just learning the tools necessary to remain abstinent. Ideally, this should be accompanied by a supportive and non-punitive atmosphere designed to assist this process. TPAPN's goal is, and should be, assisting nurses to become and stay sober while monitoring this process through objective indicators such as drug and alcohol screening and regular reports from employers and medical/mental health providers. Unfortunately, it has been my experience that many of TPAPN's rules and policies are counterproductive to these goals, lead to unnecessary referrals to the Board, and discourage potential participants from enrolling in the program.
Flaws with TPAPN include its policy of refusing to allow a participant to work until they have been cleared by an evaluator and passed a drug and alcohol screen. While sometimes this makes sense, oftentimes it does not as the nurse is already sober and may have been so for some time. This requirement frequently results in the nurse losing their job which significantly undermines their ability to successfully participate both from a sobriety, financial, and mental health standpoint.TPAPN also prohibits its participants from taking any medication that is potentially abusable even if it is medically indicated, validly prescribed, and completely unrelated to the reason for their participation. For example, a nurse who enrolls in TPAPN due to a history of alcohol abuse but who also has a longstanding and well documented chronic pain syndrome will be asked to discontinue all narcotics. A nurse may also be forced to discontinue psychiatric medications even though these are medically indicated and beneficial. This rule automatically disqualifies a whole range of potential participants who would otherwise be good candidates and can make compliance for existing participants extremely difficult. Continue Reading...
Important Update for Texas Nurses on a Board Order: Texas Board of Nursing Starts Screening for EtG and EtS
During the last month my firm has experienced an influx of calls from nurses who have tested positive for alcohol while on an Order with the Texas Board of Nursing. The consequences of testing positive for a prohibited substance, including alcohol, while under a Board Order can be quite severe. This includes an automatic temporary suspension of the nurse's license and a high likelihood that this suspension will be continued until the nurse has subsequently obtained twelve consecutive months of sobriety verified by additional random drug and alcohol testing. Moreover, from a legal perspective it is very difficult to mount an effective defense in the face of a positive test and avoid these harsh consequences.
The reason for the sudden increase in nurses testing positive for alcohol appears to be the Texas Board of Nursing's new decision to include testing for ethyl glucuronide (EtS) and ethly sulfate (EtS) in their screening panel. Previously, the screening company used by the Texas Board of Nursing only tested for ethanol, however, the Board recently signed a contract with a new vendor that includes both EtG and EtS screening in their panel. This is crucial as the sensitivity and detection window of EtG and EtS testing is much higher than a traditional urine ethanol screen.
Ethanol, or alcohol, is the primary intoxicating ingredient in alcoholic beverages. Accordingly, a person who has ingested alcohol will only test positive for ethanol as long as the alcohol remains in their system. Once it has been fully metabolized by the liver, the person will no longer test positive. Given this is a relatively quick process ethanol testing will generally only provide a 10-12 hour window in which to detect if a person has ingested alcohol. If the person has only had one or two drinks, the detection window is even shorter.
In contrast, EtG and EtS testing can detect even light alcohol use over a period of several days. Additionally, these tests, and the low cut-off levels used by the Board, are highly sensitive to even a small amount of alcohol ingetsion. It is also well documented that inadvertent, casual exposure to alcohol in the environment can cause a person to test positive. Sources of incidental exposure to alcohol that can cause positive results include:
- hand sanitizers containing alcohol;
- foods containing trace amounts of alcohol;
- non-alcoholic beers such as O'Doul's;
- colognes and perfumes;
- sustained exposure to gasoline and other chemical agents containing alcohol;
- mouthwashes containing alcohol such as Listerine and Scope;
- over-the-counter medications containing alcohol;
- certain natural and herbal medications.
I am unaware whether the Board has provided nurses testing pursuant to a Board Order with information concerning this new testing panel. Ideally, nurses should also be provided with a list of different substances which can inadvertently cause a positive result. For many years, nurses in the Texas Peer Assistance Program for Nurses been given this information prior to their enrollment in testing and hopefully the Board is doing or will soon be doing the same. This is also the standard of practice for the Texas Physician Health Program and the Professional Recovery Network.
Texas nurses testing through the Board need to be made aware that they are now being tested for EtG and EtS and receive education on how to avoid an inadvertent positive. Whether a nurse who has already tested positive can mount a legal defense is largely dependent on their test level and whether they were positive for both EtG and EtS. A low positive can be an indication of only inadvertent exposure to alcohol while a test that is positive for EtG but negative for EtS strongly suggests either a contaminated sample or the spontaneous production of ethyl glucuronide in the specimen container. In District Court actions, my firm has previously successfully challenged on these bases two automatic suspension orders entered against physicians by the Texas Medical Board.
If you have tested positive for EtG or EtS, it is prudent to contact an attorney with Board experience immediately to explore your legal options. The Board is likely to move quickly to temporarily suspend your license and time is of the essence. Even if a suspension is inevitable, oftentimes an attorney can be useful in negotiating a subsequent Order with the Board that minimizes the amount of time the nurse will be unable to practice.
I have been representing nurses in disciplinary cases before the Texas Board of Nursing for over ten years. My five lawyer law firm has assisted approximately 1000 nurses in a variety of legal and nursing license matters with the Board. This includes RN’s, LVN’s and advance practice nurses such as family nurse practitioners and CRNA’s. During this time the Board’s Staff attorneys have grown in number from 2 to 6. The Board’s general counsel (Dusty Johnston) has been a constant as has the director of enforcement and the Executive Director –Katherine Thomas. The Staff has grown in number as well with additions made in investigations, enforcement and licensing.
Five years ago the Nursing Board’s case log was backed up and a nurse undergoing an investigation could expect the case to drag on for three to five years. A competent attorney who was familiar with the Board’s processes could expect an informal conference to be afforded to their Client. At this conference reasonable efforts to talk, settle or have the case dismissed would occur before Formal Charges were filed and the matter was set by the nursing board’s lawyers for a contested case hearing at the State Office of Administrative Hearings –SOAH.
Today the Texas Board of Nursing, the enforcement division and its six lawyer Staff have a much different approach. The disciplinary case comes through investigations where it is worked up by an investigator and reviewed by a supervising investigator / team leader. While the team considers material filed by the nurse and their attorney, if there is reason to believe the nurse has violated the Nursing Practice Act the nurse is sent a proposed agreed order for their review. At this juncture one can ask for an informal conference but unless the case is practice related and the evidence is tenuous the request for an informal is unlikely to be granted. Instead, the Respondent Nurse can either accept the offer or the case will move on to SOAH for the next phase of litigation. This is an emotional and difficult decision for any nurse and their attorney.
If the proposed Agreed Order is rejected formal charges are filed internally with the Board and posted on the Texas Board of Nursing’s website for public viewing. Employers often balk at nurses who have formal charges filed against them and many are fired as a result even though they are just defending themselves and their license. Although the nursing license is now tagged or marked the nurse has no ability to defend their license through discovery until the Board’s attorneys docket the matter at SOAH and formal discovery begins. This is tacitly unfair but unless the nurse through her attorney requests the matter be expeditiously docketed they just remain in limbo with a mark across their license and name.
The Texas Board of Nursing has recently started offering a new type of agreed order which allows, with some significant reservations, nurses to avoid a permanent disciplinary mark on their record. Pursuant to the Legislature's mandate that the Board administer a pilot program to study the feasibility of deferred disciplinary actions, the BON has enacted rules governing this program and outlining what type of cases are eligible for the new deferred disciplinary order. For those interested, the enacting statute is located at Section 301.1607 of the Nursing Practice Act and the governing rule is found at Title 22, Section 213.34 of the Texas Administrative Code.
A nurse who receives a deferred disciplinary order can have the order and original complaint dismissed and removed from their licensure record with the Board of Nursing if they successfully complete the terms of the order and receive no further disciplinary actions within the next five years. At the end of the five year period the deferred order is effectively sealed and any record of its existence is removed from the Board's website. Additionally, this disciplinary action is then deemed confidential and is not subject to disclosure to either the public or a nurse's employer.
There are significant limitations to these confidentiality protections. First, prior to the five year mark, the deferred disciplinary order is completely public and will appear in both the Board's Newsletter and on the nurse's online licensure page. Second, as with any Board order, the BON is required to file a report with the Healthcare Integrity Protections Data Bank (HIPDB). As this is a creation of Congress, it is subject to federal law and does not recognize confidentiality protections created at the state level. This means that a record of the disciplinary action taken against the nurse will stay in HIPDB indefinitely and remain accessible to employers regardless of its erasure in Texas.
Eligibility for a deferred disciplinary order is restricted to those cases which can be resolved through either a Warning with Stipulations or less severe order. Matters normally disposed of through a Reprimand, Probated Suspension, Enforced Suspension, or Revocation are not eligible for a deferred disciplinary action. Furthermore cases involving criminal or sexual misconduct, chemical dependency or substance abuse, intentional acts, falsification, or deception are likewise not eligible for the pilot program. The program is designed to apply to nurses whose cases show a lack of situational awareness or a knowledge or practice deficit. Finally, nurses with a prior disciplinary history with the Board cannot receive a deferred disciplinary order.
Its limitations aside, the deferred discipline pilot program is a welcome development and should prove beneficial in resolving marginal cases involving minor violations of the Nursing Practice Act. A nurse with an active case before the Board of Nursing curious about whether they may be eligible for a deferred disciplinary order should contact an attorney experienced in administrative law and in representing clients before the BON.
After receiving a letter of investigation from the Texas Board of Nursing and providing their initial response, it is quite common for a licensed nurse to wait for a long time prior to hearing any additional word from Board Staff. When a response does come, however, it is often in the form of a proposed Agreed Order or even a request that the nurse voluntarily surrender their nursing license. If a nurse has not yet sought legal advice from an attorney farmiliar with professional license defense, now would be the time to do so, as signing the proposed Agreed Order is a final resolution of their case and effectively serves as an express or tacit admission that the Board of Nursing’s allegations are true.
So what exactly is an Agreed Order in the context of the Texas Board of Nursing? The Nursing Practice Act, the Board’s administrative rules, and the Administrative Procedure Act authorize a state licensing board such as the Board of Nursing to resolve disciplinary cases through an Agreed Order. By signing the Agreed Order, both the licensed nurse (LVN, RN or APN) and the Board are agreeing to a legal settlement resolving all outstanding allegations in exchange for a set of requirements or stipulations to be imposed on the nurse. These stipulations can range from the active suspension of the nurse’s license, a mandate that the licensee submit to random drug testing over a number of years, a restriction on where and when a nurse can work, supervision requirements, fines, and even demands that the licensee complete additional CE courses.
A common inquiry received by my law office is whether or not a nurse who has already signed an Agreed Order which has been ratified by the full Board can now back out of its requirements. Please know that once an order has been signed and officially entered by the Board, it is extremely difficult to negate the stipulations or re-litigate the underlying allegations with the lawyers for the Board. In a small minority of cases it may be possible to modify the Order by petitioning the Nursing Board’s Eligibility and Disciplinary Committee which typically meets every other month. However; it is very rare to even be granted a hearing before the E & D Committee let alone be granted the requested relief.
A nurse should never sign an Agreed or Voluntary Surrender Order lightly and without first seeking legal advice form a lawyer who is well versed in administrative law and nursing license defense. Otherwise they will not know if the requested Order is legally justifiable or is backed up by sufficient evidence. The Board, coming from their perspective as the protector of public safety, usually seeks, at least initially, the most severe punishment which they feel is supported by their rules and various disciplinary guidelines. Oftentimes, a nurse may be able to achieve a better result with adequate representation by an experienced professional licensing attorney. I strongly urge Texas nurses to seek legal advice before signing any proposed Order; otherwise they may find themselves regretting it later or even belatedly discover they are no longer allowed to work at their preferred place of employment. Too often I see nurses who have signed Orders which they never should have been on in the first place become trapped in a downward spiral of compliance and other issues which threaten their ability to continue practicing.
Recent months have seen a sharp upswing in the Board of Nursing’s use of temporary suspension as a disciplinary measure against licensees including RN’s LVN’s, APN’s and CRNA’s. This is likely due to an influx of new attorneys, investigators, and other staff at the Nursing Board. Temporary suspension is authorized by the Nursing Practice Act (The Act), Section 301 of the Occupations Code. Tex. Occ. Code § 301. The Texas Legislature has carved out two specific areas in which temporary suspension is mandated: continuing and imminent threats to the public welfare, and “intemperate use” cases. Tex. Occ. Code § 301.455 and 4551.
First, temporary suspension is required by the Act “on a determination by a majority of the board or a three-member committee of board members designated by the board that, from the evidence or information presented, the continued practice of the nurse would constitute a continuing and imminent threat to the public welfare.” Tex. Occ. Code § 301.455(a). The Texas Legislature has also authorized the Board of Nursing to suspend or restrict a license without notice or a hearing, provided that two conditions are met. Tex. Occ. Code § 301.455(a). First, institution of proceedings for a hearing before SOAH must be initiated simultaneously with the suspension, and second, a hearing must be held “as soon as possible under this chapter and Chapter 2001, Government Code.” Tex. Occ. Code § 301.455(b)(1) and (2).Our lawyers have seen a number of cases in which a temporary suspension on this basis resulted from allegations of egregious sexual misconduct, serious criminal charges, and violence.
Second, Section 301.4551 mandates temporary suspension of a license for so-called “intemperate use” cases. These cases concern nurses who are subject to a board order prohibiting the use of alcohol and nonprescribed drugs or requiring participation in a peer assistance program. Tex. Occ. Code § 301.4551. The Board may temporarily suspend the license of such a nurse if the nurse in question tests positive for alcohol or a prohibited drug, refuses to comply with a board order to submit to a drug or alcohol test, or fails to participate in the peer assistance program and the program issues a letter of dismissal and referral to the board for noncompliance. Tex. Occ. Code § 301.4551. Our law firm has seen numerous cases in which a nurse is placed on temporary suspension if that nurse shows a pattern of repeatedly engaging in intemperate use of alcohol or other prohibited drugs, especially while at work.
Once an order of temporary suspension has been issued, the Board must hold a hearing to determine probable cause within fourteen days of the issuance of the order. Following that, a hearing on the merits must be held within sixty days. The probable cause hearing is in reality the first opportunity the nurse may get to explain their side of the story and why their nursing license should not be subject to an on-going order of temporary suspension. The hearing is held in accordance with the Administrative Procedures Act and the administrative rules governing the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). The Board’s case is prosecuted by one of its staff attorneys and is ruled upon by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) from SOAH.
Recent Amendments to the Nursing Practice Act and the Subsequent Granting of Power to the Texas Board of Nursing
The statutory amendments to the Texas Nursing Practice Act as proposed by House Bill 3961 came into effect on September 1, 2009. The Amendments were largely suggested by the Texas Board of Nursing’s executive staff and attorneys in an effort to circumvent difficulties they were experiencing prosecuting disciplinary and licensure cases involving the nursing practice of Registered Nurses (RN’s), Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN’s) and Advanced Practice Nurses (APN’s) such as CRNA’s or Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS).
The lawyers and staff of the Texas Board of Nursing (TBON) proposed these legislative changes to the Nursing Practice Act in response to challenges they were encountering when experienced administrative law and professional license defense attorneys opposed the abuses and tactics that Nursing Board Staff employed in license investigation(s) and contested case hearings.
While it is unclear how Staff of the Board will try to utilize its new regulatory authority the House Research Organization Bill Analysis does help to explain the bill and does confer what the legislature interpreted the provisions / amendments to mean. The changes also require the Board to adopt rules relating to the practice and procedure surrounding its new ability to request / require forensic psychological evaluations and the questionable polygraph report. This procedure is to be accomplished through a probable cause hearing at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) and will be the topic of an independent and subsequent blog article.
The changes that will affect the way that license defense / disciplinary cases are handled involve Board Staff’s ability to request and potentially order a chemical dependency analysis or forensic psychological evaluation of a nurse. The Nursing Practice Act now also mandates that the Board utilize its Temporary Suspension Authority when a nurse tests positive for drugs or alcohol while under a Board Order or while participating in the activities of the Texas Peer Assistance Program for Nurses (TPAPN). The statute also requires the Temporary Suspension of a Nurse who is deemed non-compliant with TPAPN. This is especially troubling (as it has been my experience in handling over 500 nursing license defense cases) that oftentimes a nurse ends up in TPAPN due to routine practices by Nursing Board Staff despite the fact that the nurse is neither appropriate nor eligible for TPAPN per TPAPN’s own standards. Oftentimes TPAPN deems a person non-compliant for a cause that does not relate to drugs or alcohol such as the inability to find employment or disqualification to an ongoing medical condition. Unfortunately these nurses may find themselves temporarily suspended without good cause.
Fortunately the new statute appears to require the agency to demonstrate that probable cause exists that the nurse through their continued practice would pose an imminent danger or threat to the public health & welfare.
While reading the House Bill Analysis it is clear that Board Staff lobbied the legislature and attempted to legitimize its use of polygraph tests as a tool in the forensic psychological evaluations. Nurses however should take note that this tactic is still illegal and inappropriate under Texas Case Law and the Supreme Court’s rulings on the admissibility of polygraph test results in a Court of Law.
Any Nurse who falls prey to Staff of the Texas Board of Nursing’s new use of its authority with respect to mandated psychological evaluations or a temporary suspension should contact an experienced administrative law and professional license defense attorney immediately. The Statutes changes clearly allow for defense and rights relevant to these changes and it is best to assert them before Staff of the Board and its lawyers gain an unfair advantage a nurses license / ability to practice.
Recently I have been the attorney of record in nursing license defense matters against the Texas Board of Nursing for a number of registered nurses and licensed vocational nurses (RN & LVN Practice) in cases where a low level EtG test is in issue despite clear indications that these test results are inadequate proof of deliberate consumption of ethyl alcohol (ETOH). Thus the formal charge by the BON is unsupported by adequate admissible evidence and should not be the basis for the discipline of the nursing license / registration. In most of these cases a favorable result is anticipated for the nurse, but not without a long and arduous fight against the staff and lawyers of the Texas Board of Nursing.
Generally the cases arise in one of two ways:
- The Texas Peer Assistance Program for Nurses (TPAPN) is monitoring someone’s nursing practice pursuant to a Board Directive or Agreed Order and as such any low level test per TPAPN policy is considered a violation and is per se grounds for dismissal from TPAPN. This is also cause for a new report to the Texas Board of Nursing and Staff’s allegations / Formal Charges that the Nurse’s conduct is “unprofessional”;
- The Texas Board of Nursing has disciplined the license of a Nurse who is now under an Agreed Order and monitored by staff of the Board’s compliance and enforcement division (Carolyn Hudson for LVN Practice and Diane Burell for RN and APN practice).
In either case my law firm has seen low level tests where the result is less than 1000 ng/ml being used as an attempted basis for the unwarranted discipline of a nursing license by the attorneys and executive director of the Texas Board of Nursing in spite of clear advisory warnings that the test is in-and-of-itself flawed. Despite clear evidentiary problems staff of the Texas Board of Nursing still attempts to impose new disciplinary action against the nurse and their nursing license that generally involves either a voluntary surrender or an order of enforced suspension. This is especially egregious, as in most of the cases that the lawyers in my law firm have reviewed there is no indication that the nurse has actually violated their agreed order or the Texas Nursing Practice Act.
In a recent case I am the attorney for a Nurse (RN) who admitted truthfully on her license renewal form that she had attended treatment for alcohol use and dependency (Substance Abuse). There were no practice issues alleged and a long history of quality nursing care provided. The Nurse was ordered to TPAPN under a Board Order and she had been compliant in TPAPN for almost two (2) years -22 months to be exact.
The client then threw off a low lying result for EtG which was under 500 ng/ml. Nevertheless TPAPN deemed her non-compliant and reported her to the Texas Board of Nursing for further prosecution and licensure discipline. Staff of the Board is now attempting to revoke her license even though she has never been charged or deemed to have committed a nursing practice error and there is no evidence that she has been anything but sober.
SAMSHA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) has posted an advisory warning that the EtG lacks proven reliability and should not be used as the basis for regulatory action on its own. Despite this fact, staff of the Texas Board of Nursing continues to harass and punish nurses who do not hire an experienced attorney to defend themselves in a license defense matter involving allegations / violations of the Nursing Practice Act. The punishment is executed in the form of an Agreed Order of Surrender or Enforced Suspension until the nurse goes through unnecessary treatment again and demonstrates one-year of objective and verifiable proof of sobriety / abstinence. Any nurse with a vested interest in thier license owes it to themselves to call an experienced attorney so they may better understand and properly assert their rights.
In cases involving possible alcohol/controlled substance abuse or mental health issues, the Texas Board of Nursing frequently asks nurses to submit to a forensic psychological evaluation and polygraph examination. This standard letter also contains a list of pre-approved evaluators and polygraph examiners. Any nurse who receives such a request should immediately stop and call an attorney with experience practicing before the Texas Board of Nursing.
The psychologists and psychiatrists referenced on this pre-approved list are there solely because they have a history of providing one-sided reports supporting whatever disciplinary measures the Board is considering imposing on your license. During the past decade I have represented approximately one thousand nurses before the Texas Board of Nursing. Throughout this period I have never seen an evaluation performed by a professional on the pre-approved list that is favorable to the nurse. This includes individuals whose entire history involves one or two DWIs or misdemeanor marijuana charges from two or more decades ago.
The bulk of these questionable evaluations are performed by two forensic psychologists in Richardson Texas. When reading an evaluation by one of these evaluators, I am frequently shocked by the vast leap between the verifiable facts in a given case, the results from the relevant forensic tests (such as the SASSI), and the final recommendations of the Board evaluators. Regardless of whether or not it is objectively justified, this recommendation is typically for revocation, referral to TPAPN, or the imposition of a long period of Board monitoring.
For example, one recent case involved a nurse with a ten-year old deferred adjudication involving possession of methamphetamines. Despite ten intervening years of incident-free nursing practice, my client’s successful completion of five years of community supervision (including the provision of five years of clean drug screens), and no other evidence of a problem, one of the above-referenced doctors wrote an evaluation finding that the nurse was an addict, unfit to practice nursing, and that the Board should seek to revoke her license. At this point the nurse felt the situation was so hopeless she had already sent started voluntarily surrendering to the Board; however, thanks to a last minute call to my office, I was able to rescind her surrender and ultimately have her case dismissed without any disciplinary action.
I have previously blogged about the Board’s use of polygraph examinations on this site which I urge you to read. The bottom line is that despite being scientifically invalid and clearly inadmissible in court, the Board continues to request polygraph exams. This is presumably so that their pre-approved evaluators can then use the questionable results to claim that a nurse was lying or overly defensive during the examination. Yet, even in the rare instance where the nurse obtains a clean polygraph, the forensic psychologist’s evaluation is invariably still negative.
Any nurse who receives a request from the Board that they should submit to a forensic evaluation and polygraph exam should immediately contact an attorney with experience before the Texas Board of Nursing. You need to know your rights including the ability to refuse the polygraph exam and request an evaluator not on the pre-approved list. By seeing one of the Board’s evaluators and polygraph examiners you place your nursing license at significant risk. A negative report will have to be rebutted, likely through a second evaluation by a neutral and better credentialed evaluator. Even then there is still a disfavorable evaluation out there raising an issue as to your fitness to practice.
I sincerely urge you to contact a lawyer prior to simply acceding to the request. More is at stake than you might think and you shouldn’t go ahead without some advice from someone other than the agency who holds authority over your license.
Recently I have represented several nurses before the Texas Board of Nursing who were being pursued by Board Staff for allegations for which they had already been acquitted by the criminal justice system. As one would expect, this quasi-double jeopardy is extremely frustrating to the nurse. Despite already having hired a criminal lawyer and clearing their name in criminal court, they must now hire a license defense attorney to do the same thing before the Board of Nursing.
The most recent example, involved a case where the nurse had been accused of an inappropriate touching by a ten year old girl. The girl claimed that she had awaken at a sleep over at the client’s house to discover the nurse touching her; however, there were several inconsistencies with the girl’s testimony and it later came out that she was friends with another young girl who had made the exact same allegation (down to every detail) against my client several years prior but had subsequently admitted to her mother that she had made it up.
At the close of the nurse’s criminal trial, the jury returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty. Moreover, Child Protective Services had conducted their own investigation into the matter and determined that nothing had occurred. Yet, despite his acquittal and the negative finding by Child Protective Services, the Texas Board of Nursing decided to pursue their own disciplinary action against my client, seeking the revocation of his nursing license.
Thankfully, my firm was able to enforce the expunction order which had previously been entered by the criminal court to prevent the Board from using second-hand records from that trial to prove their case. Instead, the Board of Nursing was forced to bring the girl to testify in person at a hearing at the State Office of Administrative Hearings. Based on conflicting testimony from our witnesses and several discrepancies between the girl’s original outcry and her testimony at the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge concluded that the Board of Nursing had not met their burden of proof and accordingly entered an opinion favorable to the nurse.
I understand that the Board has a mission to protect the public from bad nurses; nevertheless, at some point one has to think that enough is enough. A person should only have to clear their name so many times before it is reasonable for the Board to think twice about wasting state money to retry a licensee for the same conduct.
The underlying lesson is that simply because you received a not guilty verdict in criminal court or the District Attorney decided not to prosecute, you are not shielded from a licensure action by the Texas Board of Nursing. They frequently subject a nurse licensee to yet another legal action where they are forced to again clear their name or face severe restrictions on, or even termination, of their livelihood. If you are facing such a situation with the Texas Board of Nursing, I highly recommend that you contact a seasoned administrative attorney with experience before the Texas Board of Nursing and the State Office of Administrative Hearings as otherwise you could be risking your license.
The Texas Board of Nursing continues to use tactics which arguably violate and abuse the due process protections guaranteed Texas nurses under the Federal and Texas State Constitutions. The Board’s tactics can put your employment and reputation in jeopardy without any opportunity to defend yourself.
This abuse occurs through the Board’s filing of formal charges without the corresponding docketing of those charges at the State Office of Administrative Hearings, thereby preventing licensees from either clearing their name or achieving a final resolution. To illustrate how the BON is strong-arming nurses, we must understand how a complaint about a nurse works its way through the administrative system to a potential hearing.
Complaints are submitted to the BON in writing and contain information about the nurse and of the pertinent facts or conduct. 22 Tex. Admin. Code § 213.13(a) (Tex. Bd. of Nursing, Complaint Investigation and Disposition). Not later than 30 days after a complaint is received, the BNE staff shall place a time line for completion, not to exceed one year (this is frequently ignored), in the investigative file and notify all parties of the complaint.
If a complaint is not resolved informally, the staff at the Texas Board of Nursing may commence disciplinary proceedings by filing formal charges. 22 TAC 213.15(a). This is where the BON can strong-arm unsuspecting RNs, LVNs and other licensed nurses: the formal charge will show up on your record when a potential or current employer attempts to verify your nursing license online at the Board of Nursing website. Furthermore, your employer or potential employer can call the Board of Nursing to discuss the content of the formal charge, oftentimes resulting in the employer’s decision to terminate the nurse or not hire a job applicant.
At this juncture, the nurse is stuck in limbo. His or her license has the stigma of a formal charge attached to it, often injuring the nurse’s ability to retain or find employment. This is where the time line for completion, mentioned above, comes into play. The time line is said not to exceed one year, but the Board of Nursing, while you have this formal charge attached to your license, can continually extend the timeline by “3-12” months. This can go well over the one year timeline proscribed by the statute. The Leichter Law Firm represents numerous nurses who have been in this situation for years and are still receiving letters informing them that the timeline for the investigation into their case has been extended another “3-12” months, with no apparent end in sight and no solution to the formal charges attached to their license.
How can this be resolved? Unfortunately, at present, the method for resolving such cases rests with the Texas Board of Nursing, and they have made no effort to reasonably settle these cases. The Texas Board of Nursing will often ask the nurse to simply sign an order agreeing to whatever punishment the Texas Board of Nursing deems appropriate. If the nurse refuses, the formal charges remain, and the case is supposed to move to an administrative hearing. But, the case cannot move from a formal charge to an administrative hearing unless the Texas Board of Nursing completes and files a Request to Docket Case form (and any other documents as required by statute) with the State Office of Administrative Hearings. For many licensees, the Texas Board of Nursing has simply not filed such a request.
Even a nurse who is represented by an attorney faces a tough situation in this scenario. In previous cases I have attempted to file discovery requests so that we could learn whether or not the Board can even prove up the case. In response, I always receive a curt letter from the Board stating that we have no present discovery rights as the case has not yet been docketed at SOAH. Thus the nurse remains in an arbitrary and bureaucratic nightmare where they are faced with formal charges and yet have no avenue to contest them until the Board deigns to set them at SOAH. The only possible recourse is file an action in District Court to try and compel the Board of Nursing to set the matters at SOAH, however, this is a costly and time-consuming process.
The real solution, of course, would be for the Board to change their policy and ensure that matters are docketed at SOAH within a reasonable time after the filing of formal charges. The Board has recently hired several new attorneys and this appears to have helped in the number of cases which are being set at SOAH. However, much room for improvement remains.
Over the last two weeks our law firm overturned two default revocations entered by the Texas Board of Nursing’s Eligibility & Disciplinary Committee (E&D) from their meeting on February 12, 2009 wherein they revoked over twenty Nursing licenses. The two nurses represented by us has been denied due process and had essentially had their property interest in their nursing license taken in violation of the Texas and United States Constitutions.
In one case the Nurse had properly responded to the Formal Charges filed by the Board of Nursing’s Staff Attorney and could demonstrate proof that their response had been received. Nevertheless, Staff of the Nursing Board presented the case to the E&D maintaining that the nurse had failed to respond or communicate with Staff of the Board.
In the other case the nurse did not receive notice of the E&D committee hearing from the investigator until two days after her license had been revoked. This is hardly adequate notice and was substantiated by the records maintained by the United States Postal Service. In spite of this fact the case was presented by Staff to the unsuspecting Board Members on the E&D Committee and the vote / decision to revoke was entered.
Our firm filed a Motion for Rehearing in both cases which was granted by the Nursing Board’s Executive Director, Katherine Thomas, pursuant to a newly adopted rule. In one case the Motion for Rehearing was granted one day after the motion was filed by our firm‘s lawyer. On the one hand Staff of the Board should be applauded for correctly amending such a vast and unjust taking -but on the other what about those twenty or so nurses who might have been harmed in a similar way.
If you have been the victim of this type of injustice / action and your RN or LVN nursing license / registration was revoked under similar circumstances then please contact us or visit the firm’s website for more information concerning help available to you. Time is of the essence as a failure to act promptly justifies the Board’s impermissible taking as a matter of law.
As most Texas nurses are now aware, the Texas Board of Nursing has for several years been performing criminal background checks as part of the renewal process. Each year a certain number of nurses who are up for renewal are required to submit fingerprints for an FBI background check. Those persons who lack any criminal history or who have previously disclosed that history to the Board need not worry. However, any licensees who do have an undisclosed criminal matter, even a minor one, should be concerned as the Board will likely use that record as an excuse to open an investigation and vigorously probe for any history or other indications that they feel indicates the person may lack fitness to practice nursing. Perhaps the most frustrating part of the Board’s policy is that they will apply the same searching examination no matter how old or miniscule the criminal record.
As an example, I recently served as the attorney for the spouse of a former client, who is also a nurse. His issue was that he recently received a letter from a Board investigator stating that a twenty year old arrest for misdemeanor possession of marijuana had popped up during his renewal background check and that they were opening an investigation based on it. The charge was so old that my client didn’t even remember it which is also the reason he had not disclosed it the Board. The arrest in fact is so old that it predates his entrance into nursing school. Furthermore, the fact that only an arrest showed up indicates that the local prosecutor likely decided that the matter was so minor that it did not warrant prosecution. Yet, the Board’s desire to pursue this old charge meant that he had to contact me and I dutifully sent a not so nice letter to the Board telling them to back off.
Essentially the Board is wasting state tax dollars and subjecting veteran nurses to searching and oftentimes humiliating investigations on the basis of decades-old minor criminal offenses which likely committed before the person was even licensed. This goes well beyond any investigatory/disciplinary mandate extended by the state legislature when they granted the Board the authority to perform extensive background checks as part of the renewal process.
The Texas Board of Nursing’s functions do include the screening of new and current licensees for the kind of criminal record which could indicate that they lack fitness to practice nursing. However, this authority does not extend to investigations and possible disciplinary action based on minor offenses committed one or two decades ago with years of uninterrupted, problem-free practice in the interim. All this does is waste Board funding and misdirect their limited resources away from pursuing licensees with genuine and ongoing issues that raise real questions about their safe practice.
It is unfortunate that it often takes the hiring of an attorney to convince the Board to retreat from this type of baseless investigation since they should never occur in the first place. It has been my experience as an attorney in many of these cases that the Board is essentially using the old offense as an excuse to sift into the nurse’s record and try and find anything which can then be added on as firmer grounds for disciplinary action. For example, the nurse will frequently be asked to submit to a polygraph examination and post-test forensic evaluation. As I have discussed elsewhere in my blog the Board has no authority to request this and the nurse is full within their rights to simply refuse. The problem is the nurse is never informed of this right of refusal as submission to test is presented as a mandatory matter-of-course. Following this the Board will habitually make an inappropriate referral to TPAPN based on the original criminal matter and whatever admissions or suspicious responses result from the polygraph and interview. Again the foundation for all of this can be nothing more than a decades old DWI or possession charge.
Any nurse facing such a situation should consider hiring an attorney with experience representing clients before the Texas Board of Nursing. Unless they face a lawyer who knows what is and is not within their authority, the Board will likely try to initiate their own minor inquisition into your work and life history.
I often receive calls from nursing students, or even those only considering pursuing a nursing degree, with questions concerning whether or not they will be licensed by the Board of Nursing. Typically, these individuals have a criminal record, history of misuse of controlled substances, or a mental health diagnosis that they fear will present an obstacle to successful licensure.
These persons have already taken best course of action by being proactive and contacting an attorney with experience before the Board and who should therefore be able to estimate the difficulty they may or may not face in applying for their license. Generally speaking most nurses with marks on their record should be able to obtain licensure. A good portion of these may have to do so under the form of a probationary license with restrictions related to whatever it is that concerns the Board.
For example, an applicant with a history of abuse of controlled substances may only receive their license on the condition that submit to random drug screens, attend AA meetings, successfully complete a recovery program, and work in an environment where they can be supervised by a superior nurse. A nurse with a criminal record may have to enter into an Agreed Order that provides for supervised practice and grants them only a provisional license with full licensure dependent on achieving a number of years of violation-free practice. Finally, persons with a serious psychiatric diagnosis may need to agree to an Order mandating that they continue with a specified medical treatment program to keep their condition under control.
The very few nurses who will likely not be issued a license are those with serious criminal convictions or an ongoing and untreated chemical dependency problem. On the issue of serious criminal offenses I am referring to convictions such as rape, sexual assault, kidnapping, injuring a child, or murder. Section 301.4535 of the Nursing Practice Act provides a list of criminal offenses for which the Board may refuse to license an applicant. Other felony convictions fall under this list as well.
Future nurses should note, however, that the Board is typically reluctant to license a nurse even a minor black mark on their record if they are not represented by an attorney. They will usually refuse outright or press a nurse to enter into an order with terms that are more stringent than indicated by their history. As in any disciplinary matter, the Board of nursing generally pursues the severest sanction unless the nurse has a lawyer to fight for their interests.
One option for students unsure of their eligibility for licensure is found in § 301.257 of the Nursing Practice Act. This section provides that a nursing student or even a person only considering attending a nursing school can file a Petition for a Declaratory Order of Eligibility for Licensure. In response, the Board of Nursing will then review that person’s history and assess whether they meet the required good moral and professional character standards. If they do, the Board Staff will issue a Declaratory Order finding that individual conditionally eligible for licensure as long as they graduate and later pass the standard nursing exams.
If you have questions about your eligibility for a Texas nursing license or the declaratory order procedure, please call an experienced administrative law attorney. They should be able to intelligently discuss your case and lay out your options. Don’t wait until after graduating from nursing school to find out that you may not be eligible for a Texas license.
According to the Texas Board of Nursing’s Administrative Rules any nurse who has a diagnosis of chemical dependency or who otherwise has a history of abuse of controlled substances must demonstrate through “objective, verifiable evidence” that they have been sober for the past twelve months before they can be allowed to continue practicing licensed nursing. Title 22 Texas Administrative Code § 213.29 and the Board’s “Eligibility and Disciplinary Sanctions for Nurses with Substance Abuse, Misuse, Substance Dependency, or other Substance Use Disorder.” Normally, a nurse will establish that they have been sober throughout the past year by offering up AA logs, negative drug screens, an expert evaluation by an addiction specialist, and testimony from support group members, coworkers, and other intimate acquaintances. The idea is that with the evidence in hand, the Nursing Board will be able to verify the nurse’s sobriety date and see if this meets the twelve-month threshold.
Regrettably, it has been my recent experience serving as an attorney for such nurses that the Texas Board of Nursing is all too eager to brush aside such offers of proof and race to a full administrative hearing where they seek, contrary to their own rules and policy guidelines, a one-year suspension of the nurse’s license. In the cases I have been involved with, Texas Nursing Board Staff have repeatedly argued that a one year “timeout” is the appropriate sanction. Their idea is that during this year long timeout period, the licensee can work on their recovery and accumulate verifiable evidence of their sobriety. The problem is that the Board maintains that this timeout applies whether or not the nurse all ready has twelve months of verifiable sobriety. This is an incorrect statement of the law and is grossly unfair and unnecessary for nurses who have already been sober for a year or longer.
Another problem with the Board trial strategy in this area is that in the lead up time to a full SOAH hearing, they typically refuse to accept a chemically dependent nurse’s evidence of their sobriety date. In line with this any Agreed Order offered by the Board to settle the case fails to include a finding of fact setting forth the licensee’s date of sobriety. Inclusion of the sobriety date is absolutely crucial. This is the finding the nurse needs so that they can trace back twelve months of continuous sobriety. Otherwise when they later seek to lift any bar to their ability to actively practice nursing, the whole issue of when is their initial date of sobriety will have to be litigated all over again. The Board of Nursing will once again reject the nurse’s evidence of sobriety as insufficient and force the licensee to once again hire an attorney and take the matter all the way through to the State Office of Administrative Hearings.
Given the Texas Board of Nursing’s intransigence on this point, a nurse’s only real option is to pursue their case all the way to SOAH the first time around. This is the only way to have a finding of fact issued, in this case by an Administrative Law Judge, establishing their date of sobriety so that they will have a concrete point from which to trace their one-year of sobriety. This is a waste of taxpayer money and needlessly creates stress and drains the finances of the nurse. Simply put, the Board needs to follow their own administrative rules and policies.
As an attorney I usually advise my clients in this situation not to accept an Agreed Order that does not contain a sobriety date. Fighting the Board all the way through SOAH may be more expensive in the short run than simply signing the agreement, however, in the long run they will probably need to hire an attorney when they later attempt to reactive their license or lift any bar preventing them from practicing as a nurse. This is because they still need to establish their sobriety date so that they can demonstrate twelve months free from any chemical substances. Furthermore, if they decide to challenge the Board now, their current license will remain active and they will be able to continue working as a nurse while the disciplinary process runs its course. Because of the Board’s refusal to accept a sobriety date, by the time this process has run its course, the nurse may have already accumulated a full year of sobriety and therefore not suffer any down time.
I strongly recommend that any nurse’s facing this scenario contact an attorney with experience in administrative law and representing clients before the Texas Board of Nursing. They will be able to help you accumulate the evidence needed to demonstrate twelve months of continuous sobriety and be able to discuss with you the best options for protecting your license.
Mirroring general trends, the number of standard of care complaints against Texas nurses have risen dramatically in the past few years. All too often, the Board has chosen to punish nurses as individuals for what are actually institutional defects in the larger medical entities where they practice. This is particularly true for nurses serving marginalized patients such as those found in the prison system. Further, just as in cases of chemical dependency, unprofessional conduct, and criminal convictions, the danger to a nurse’s license is very real.
These cases can be especially frustrating for clients because the basic challenge is to their competency as a nurse. All too often the Board is willing to pin the blame on a nurse for situations in which there was no clear breach of the standard of care and in fact no evidence that the stated medical intervention would have made a difference. Modern nursing practice can be a hectic experience and unfortunately the Texas Nursing Board is often reluctant to accept that people do in fact die or get sicker in hospitals without a breach in the standard of care by a nurse. Additionally, the dynamic of these matters is such that the Board may investigate one nurse who then tries to shift blame, whether real or nonexistent, onto another.
The need for legal representation in such cases cannot be stressed enough. Effective advocacy in standard of care cases generally requires the parsing of voluminous medical records and the development of expert testimony on the applicable standard of care and whether or not it was met in that case. A nurse without an attorney will be placed in a decided disadvantage by the lack of their own expert who can independently challenge or verify the opinion of the Board of Nursing’s expert who, not too surprisingly, seems to always side with BON. Add to this the development of any applicable mitigation evidence, and most nurses will be left with a complex situation where an attorney on your side will be an immeasurable help. It’s not worth going it alone, as the Board generally feels they can do what they want to a nurse who doesn’t have a lawyer. Remember, your license and ability to provide for yourself and your family is at stake.
Currently I am representing a nursing client in a very serious case against the Texas Board of Nursing at the State Office of Administrative Hearings. This matter has been progressing over a long period of time and in the interim my client’s RN license came up for renewal. She filled in the required forms and sent them in along with the mandatory fee. In response she received a letter from BON informing her that they would not renew her license at this time due to the unresolved status of her SOAH proceeding. They have continued to deny her renewal application and so we have been forced to ask for a second SOAH hearing on this issue. Essentially, the BON has made my client seek a separate and additional SOAH proceeding contesting their refusal to renew her license because of the still pending status of the original SOAH proceeding. This makes little sense as a matter of law or logic.
Under the Administrative Procedure Act, a nurse who timely files an application to renew their license ensures that their current license will remain in effect until the final resolution of any ongoing disciplinary proceeding. Texas Government Code § 2001.054. Thus until a final and negative result has emerged from the original SOAH case, the Board can not affect my client’s current nursing license. The only way they could would be through an emergency suspension procedure wherein they would be required to show that my client presents such an immediate and serious threat to the public that the suspension of her license is warranted without a prior hearing. Yet, they did not choose to use this procedure and so must wait till the conclusion of the disciplinary process.
The logic of this rule is clear; unless they can meet the higher showing required of an emergency suspension procedure, the BON cannot sanction a nurse until the contested case process has ended. They have to meet their burden of proof just as any other government agency must before they can take a person’s professional license.
The correct response to my client’s renewal application would have been to either grant it or to stay any decision until the resolution of the prior SOAH action, not an outright denial. Their denial has forced my client to seek, as outlined above, a second contested case proceeding on this issue. If she did not, then after thirty days the Board’s denial would become final meaning that even if she prevailed in the original proceeding her license would have lapsed in the meantime.
What makes it especially difficult to fathom the BON’s action as taken in good faith is the fact that even if they renewed the license, they would be free to suspend, revoke, or apply any other encumbrances to it if they prevail in the ongoing SOAH hearing. A renewed license would have no effect on the array of sanctions that could be opposed if they receive a favorable finding in the underlying proceeding.
The BON’s stance on this issue represents an abusive tactic that contravenes the relevant law and forces my client to suffer the additional emotional strain and attorney fees associated with her need to contest this new issue. This is lamentably another attempt by the Nursing Board to warp the administrative process and strong-arm a nurse when it looks like they might not get what they want.
Effective September 1, 2008, a passing grade on the Nursing Jurisprudence Exam will be required by the Texas Board of Nursing for of all applicants for initial licensure. Under the terms of a recent amendment to Board Rule § 217.17, initial licensure applicants will be tested regarding their knowledge of:
"board statutes, rules, position statements, guidelines, disciplinary sanction policies, frequently asked questions, and other resource documents accessible on the board’s web page relating to the regulation, licensure, and practice of nursing under the following categories:
- Nursing Licensure and Regulation in Texas;
- Nursing Ethics;
- Nursing Practice;
- Nursing Peer Review; and
- Disciplinary Action.
The Exam will consist of a minimum of 50 questions and will be psychometrically validated. Note that a nurse who has passed this exam will not be required to retake it for another or similar license, unless as a specific requirement of the Nursing Board. A passing score will remain valid for application purposes for one year.
All nurses who have been convicted or pled guilty or no contest to certain felony offenses should be aware that under a recent addition to the Nursing Practice Act, the Texas Nursing Board holds expanded authority to impose tough sanctions. Already a serious matter, an initial conviction for these offenses now carries additional consequences including mandatory revocation under certain conditions.
Chapter 301.4535 of the Texas Nursing Practice Act states that the Texas Board of Nursing must suspend or refuse to initially license any nurse / applicant who has been initially convicted of:
- Murder under § 19.02, capital murder under § 19.03, or manslaughter under § 19.04 of the Texas Penal Code;
- Kidnapping or unlawful restraint under § 20 of the Penal Code, when the offense was punished as a felony or state jail felony;
- Sexual Assault under § 22.011 of the Penal Code;
- Aggravated Sexual Assault under § 22.021
- Continuous sexual abuse of a young child or children under § 21.02, or indecency with a child under § 21.11 of the Penal Code;
- Aggravated Assault under Section 22.021 of the Penal Code:
- Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly injuring a child, elderly individual, or disabled individual under § 22.04 of the Penal Code;
- Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly abandoning or endangering a child under § 22.041 of the Penal Code;
- Aiding suicide under § 22.08 when the offense was punished as a state jail felony;
- An offense under § 25.07 of the Penal Code that was punished as a felony;
- An offense under § 25.071 of the Penal Code that was punished as a felony;
- An agreement to abduct a child from custody under § 25.031 of the Penal Code;
- The sale or purchase of a child under § 25.08 of the Penal Code;
- Robbery under § 29.02 of the Penal Code;
- Aggravated Robbery under § 29.03 of the Penal Code;
- An offense for which a defendant is required to register as a sex offender under Chapter 62 of the Code of Criminal Procedure; or
- An offense under the law of another state, federal law, or the Uniform Code of Military Justice that contains elements that are substantially similar to the elements of an offense listed in this subsection.
Note that the statute’s coverage includes licensees who have been convicted or pled guilty to one of the above offenses and who are then sentenced to deferred adjudication, community supervision, or probation. The basic message of §301.4535 is that the Board must and will automatically suspend an active license or refuse to initially license a nurse who has been initially convicted of one of the above specified offenses.
Over the objections of the Nursing Board, my law firm has successfully argued before the State Office of Administrative Hearings that when read in conjunction with the rest of the Nursing Practice Act, the Board’s own rules, and the Texas Occupations Code, § 301.4535 authorizes the Board to issue a stayed suspension as well as an enforced suspension. The former allows a licensee to continue practicing as a nurse while the latter does not. However, in order to effectively show that they qualify for a stayed order, a nurse will almost certainly need to present evidence and argument at an official hearing as to why, given the circumstances of their case, a stayed suspension would be appropriate. This involves the gathering and presentation of remedial evidence, possibly before an Administrative Law Judge in a trial-like setting. The eye of an experienced attorney is often able to pick out the kinds of beneficial remedial evidence which a layperson will miss. Further, a nurse’s right to such a hearing is contingent on their making a timely request for it. To ensure that you meet this deadline, consultation with an attorney may be advisable.Continue Reading...
Despite the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure’s clear admonishment that a person’s successfully completed Deferred Disposition (available for Class C offenses in Municipal and Justice Courts only) cannot be used against them, the Texas Board of Nurse Examiners and Texas Medical Board continue to use such a record as a basis for disciplinary investigations and sanctions. I recently represented a client physician who had been given a deferred disposition for Public Intoxication -a Class C misdemeanor. Even though my client successfully completed their deferral requirements, the TMB nevertheless dug this fact up and used it to try and sanction the physician’s license. The Texas Board of Nursing is also guilty in this area. Despite the fact that an attorney / prosecutor and a criminal judge decide that a deferred disposition is warranted, licensing boards and administrative agencies routinely attempt to impose discipline anyway. Unfortunately, all too often unrepresented applicants and lawyers practicing outside of their scope fail to realize the remedies available to them.
Besides being bad policy and simply unfair, the practice is also arguably illegal under the Code of Criminal Procedure. The Code specifically states that once the complaint is dismissed upon the person’s successful completion of deferred disposition, “there is no final conviction and the complaint may not be used against the person for any reason.” Texas Code of Criminal Procedure § 45.051(e). Yet, the Medical Board and the Texas Board of Nursing frequently use such criminal history as the foundation of investigations, licensure actions and application denials. The statute’s prohibition against the use of the disposition goes to the very reason for having deferred disposition in the first place. It is designed to give the minor criminal offender a second chance at a clean slate. The policies of the Texas Medical Board and the Board of Nurse Examiners undermine this purpose and needlessly burden their license and discipline divisions with minor offenders that pose no danger to Texas patients. Ultimately when this predicament the licensee should seek the remedy of expunction which is availalable in almost all cases where a defferred disposition has been succesfully completed.
For the January 17-18, 2008 meeting of the Texas Board of Nursing (formerly the Texas Board of Nurse Examiners), attorney and general counsel Dusty Johnson presented an informational report on the Board’s policy in regards to minor criminal infractions and licensing. Of particular interest for current and future Texas nurses, the report provides a list of crimes which the Board has deemed to be too minor to warrant an investigation or disciplinary order in connection with a license application or renewal. Following the mandate of Chapter 53 of the Texas Government Code, the BON (BNE) recognizes that there are some forms of criminal conduct which are not sufficiently related to nursing to bring into question the licensee’s competency. Specifically, the listed criminal offenses are compared to the Board’s own Rule 213.28(i) concerning “youthful indiscretions.” Also of note is the finding that the Nursing Board now annually investigates approximately 3000 “positive hits” resulting from the standard FBI criminal background check required of all license applicants.
The criminal offenses considered not to be sufficiently related to the practice of nursing as to warrant an investigation or disciplinary action are:
- One misdemeanor DWI/DUI (not on probation)
- One misdemeanor offense of possession of marijuana
- Up to two misdemeanor theft by check
- One misdemeanor domestic/family violence
- One misdemeanor theft over $20 less than $250 (normally assoc. with shoplifting)
- One misdemeanor shop lifting
- One misdemeanor criminal mischief
- Misdemeanor graffiti
- One misdemeanor criminal trespass
- One misdemeanor disorderly conduct
- Up to two misdemeanor Public Intoxication
- Up to two misdemeanor Pan Handling
- Misdemeanor “loud noise” violations
- One misdemeanor Reckless Driving
- Misdemeanor minor in possession of tobacco
- One misdemeanor selling alcohol to a minor
- Failure to appear
- Vehicular molestation (slashing tires)
It has been my experience that the Board is oftentimes less than faithful to the above stated policy. In fact a discerning reader will note that the exemption of the above offenses is subject to the proviso that the Board does not deem them connected with patient care or the practice of nursing. In reality BNE attorney’s are all too ready to stretch any reading of what relates to the practice of nursing beyond all plausibility in their crusade to discipline nurses. For example, of the above, DWI convictions/deferred adjudication, domestic/family violence, and any form of theft are frequently the basis of Board of Nurse Examiners license investigations and disciplinary action. The Board’s mandate of protecting Texas medical consumers while also ensuring the licensing of much needed new nurses would be better served when the BNE decides to rigorously adhere to these stated policies.
The Texas Peer Assistance Program for Nurses (TPAPN) has a long history of helping Texas nurses suffering from chemical dependency regain control over their lives and keep their license in the process. Nurses referred to TPAPN are able to confidentially undergo treatment and later return to nursing practice. Texas nurses should be aware of two new changes regarding the TPAPN program, one positive and one negative. For a description of TPAPN please see my law firm's web site or blog post from July 2007 entitled "What is TPAPN"
On the positive front, the TPAPN program has developed a new category of treatment named the Extended Evaluation Participation (EEP). To be eligible for the EEP program, the nurse must be involved in an isolated drug incident with no other history of substance abuse and, after professional evaluation, be found to have a low probability of chemical dependency. Participants are subject to one year of drug screening, with a minimum of 18 screens, and are allowed to continue work without any restrictions during this period. If there are no positive screens at the end of the year, the nurse is discharged from the program and their participation and the initial incident remain confidential. Yet, if there is a positive screen or the nurse fails to adhere to the screening program, the participant will be referred to the Texas Board of Nurse Examiners. This new category of treatment program should prove beneficial to the class of nurses who become involved in an isolated incident involving a chemical substance, maybe even inadvertently, and also are not actively abusing that substance and show a low risk of doing so in the future.Continue Reading...
Effective May 2, 2007, the Texas Board of Nurse Examiners (recently renamed to the Texas Board of Nursing) adopted new language regarding rules §§ 214 and 215 governing Professional and Vocational Nursing Education. First published in the Texas Register on March 9, 2007, the rule change was designed to eliminate any misunderstanding as to the necessary student-to-faculty ratio required for an approved nursing school. The rule makes clear that by using preceptors, the maximum student-to-faculty ratio can be increased to 1:24 and for teaching assistants with a faculty member in a clinical setting, a ratio of 1:15.
More recently on June 22, 2007, the Board adopted numerous changes regarding Continuing Education requirements. Rule § 216 was modified so that a contact hour for continuing education requirements purposes was extended from 50 to 60 minutes. The Rule was also changed such that it is no longer mandatory for RNs to take a CE course on Hepatitis C.
More significantly, the Board has changed its policy on auditing and investigating nurses for compliance with CE requirements. Previously Board rules provided for a random audit of licensees for fulfillment of CE provisions. If no evidence of compliance was provided by the nurse an investigation was initiated which could lead to possible disciplinary action. Under the rule change, all licensees are required to submit evidence of CE compliance when seeking license renewal and if insufficient proof is provided the Board will simply deny their renewal application. This new rule is found at § 216.11.
In March, the Board adopted several amendments to §§ 213.28 and 213.33, two rules related to practice and procedure in disciplinary matters. Language was added to § 213.33 outlining the specific qualifications required of a Board appointed psychologist or psychiatrist who is charged with evaluating a licensee’s present fitness to practice nursing (§ 213.33(e)). The new provisions also permit the Board to request that the licensee be examined by a forensic psychologist or psychiatrist to determine the likelihood of future violations by the nurse and the level of danger they pose to the public (§ 213.33(f)).Continue Reading...
Recently, the Board of Nurse Examiners has adopted two practices that besides being unlawful under the Board’s own rules and the applicable law cause great harm to the licensee, one even rising to an effective denial of due process. The first such practice involves the prosecution of disciplinary actions by filing formal charges internally against the nurse, without first offering the licensee a chance to present their case at an informal conference. Not only is this skipping of the informal process contrary to Nursing Board Rules, it also places an undue burden on licensees who are needlessly forced to shoulder increased legal costs and emotional strain.
Similar to many Texas state licensing boards, the Board of Nurse Examiners has adopted rules mandating that a licensee facing a disciplinary action be given the opportunity to participate in an informal settlement conference before the filing of formal charges. Pursuant to the Nursing Practice and Administrative Procedure Acts, the Board Rule regarding informal proceedings expressly states that the licensee be given an “opportunity to be heard.” Title 2 Texas Administrative Code § 213.20(b). Presumably, the rationale for this rule is to ensure that licensees and Board Staff have a chance to informally present their respective cases and hopefully achieve an agreed settlement. Such a procedure avoids encumbering the State Office of Administrative Hearings with an additional case when the matter is open to informal settlement. Likewise the costs of a formal SOAH proceeding are far greater for both the Board and the licensee when compared to an informal conference.
Even more egregiously, the BNE has in some cases decided to file formal charges, broadcast such filing on their website for public viewing, but refuse or wait many months to also docket the case at the State Office of Administrative Hearings. This effectively places the matter in administrative limbo as under the APA until the case is docketed, SOAH does not gain jurisdiction over the matter. This means there will not be a date for a formal hearing, an Administrative Law Judge will not be appointed to preside over the case, and parties can not effectively file motions or perform discovery. Title 1 TAC § 155.9(e). Such practice clearly violates SOAH’s Rules of Procedure which explicitly mandate that an agency pursuing a contested case “shall” docket the case. § 155.9. Moreover, a failure to docket the case after the filing of formal charges also contravenes the APA’s stricture that parties are entitled to a hearing on the merits. Texas Government Code § 2001.051. Simply put, the Board of Nurse Examiners has no legal authority to pursue this policy -in fact such practice violates the rules.
The Texas Board of Nurse Examiners (BNE) became the Texas Board of Nursing (BON) on September 1, 2007 pursuant to House Bill 2426 otherwise known as the Sunset Bill for the Board of Nurse Examiners.
This should have no effect on the public other than some confusion as to why the agency continues to use its old stationary and have not updated their website. Arguably they will use the old stationary until it runs out and when the State gets around to it I imagine the website will be tweaked to reflect the new agency title –Budget Constraints.
Email addresses for all Board Staff have changed to the firstname.lastname@example.org format, but old emails should be active as well for at least another month. Whatever are they going to do about business cards for all of the employees? Let’s hope they don’t wait until they run out to order new ones.
Unfortunately, the name change means no relief for nurses involved in the disciplinary process or for those seeking declaratory orders. Board Staff, Board Policies, The Nursing Practice Act and Board Rules remain –the agency just has a different title.
Recently I have had a flurry of cases where Texas nurses are accused of violating their Agreed Board Orders or their Texas Peer Assistance Program for Nurses (TPAPN) contracts due to positive Ethylglucuronide (EtG) tests in the 300 to 500 ng/ml range. In each case the Nurse denied consuming alcohol and corroborating evidence suggested they were sober; nevertheless, TPAPN expelled them from participation and a subsequent BNE investigation ensued against their nursing license.
This is clearly contrary to the admissibility of EtG testing in Court or as valid scientific evidence for the Board of Nurse Examiners to consider regarding these individuals knowing or intentional use of ethyl alcohol (ETOH). Please see my blog post: “What is EtG”. Moreover, it is a clear abuse of the power of both TPAPN and the BNE as they have decided their interpretations and determinations regarding EtG testing validity and use are superior to that of the Courts, SAMSHA and the scientific community at large.
Properly utilized, EtG testing can be an excellent screening tool to confront someone about a positive test. Oftentimes the initial confrontation will yield to an admission of a return to active drinking. However, when denied and all circumstances suggest that sobriety is in tact the EtG test in this range is insufficient in and of itself to prove alcohol consumption.Continue Reading...
Established under Chapter 467 of the Health and Safety Code, TPAPN is a state-approved peer assistance program for Texas nurses. Operated by the Texas Nurses Association, TPAPN offers licensed nurses who are impaired by chemical dependency or mental illness an opportunity to undergo treatment and to safely return back to nursing practice -all under the protection of confidentiality.Available to Licensed Vocational and Registered Nurses who are diagnosed with substance abuse, chemical dependency, anxiety disorders, major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, program participation is an alternative to being reported to the Board of Nurse Examiners. A nurse suffering or who thinks they may be afflicted with one of the above diagnoses can either self-report or be referred to TPAPN by their employer. Completely voluntary, the program allows a nurse who has entered TPAPN to decline to participate or withdraw at any time. However, failure to adequately fulfill the TPAPN contract may result in a report being generated to the Texas Board of Nurse Examiners.
The self-proclaimed goal of the program is to provide an effective channel for recovery from chemical dependency and/or mental illness and effective re-integration back into nursing practice, thus protecting the public and providing incentives for professional accountability. Once in TPAPN, the nurse is assigned a case manager with extensive academic and clinical expertise in chemical dependency and psychiatric nursing. The program also includes advocates, LVN and RN volunteers who are there to support nurses throughout the program. Advocates create another layer of support for when a nurse’s case manager is not available.Continue Reading...
Ethyl Glucuronide (EtG) is a metabolite created by the body following alcohol consumption. Testing for this metabolite, typically via a urine sample, has become increasingly prevalent in the United States following its initial approval and use in Europe especially by agencies concerned with monitoring an individual for any relapse or return to active drinking. Many favor EtG sampling because it is a “direct” test for alcohol consumption in contrast to older, more traditional tests like Gamma Glutamyl Transferase or Carbohydrate-Deficient Transferrin which look for indirect signs of alcohol use such as liver damage. Further, while older tests generally only become positive following heavy alcohol use, EtG can be present in the urine after only a single drink. Moreover, EtG remains in the body and is detectable in urine three to five days after consumption
Unfortunately, EtG testing has several serious short-comings that limit its viability as an stand-alone objective marker of recent alcohol consumption and relapse. In the area of medical testing, a test is characterized by two qualities: sensitivity and specificity. Sensitivity measures the ability of the test to correctly identify those individuals who do have the condition of interest, here relapse, while specificity measures the ability of the test to correctly identify those persons who do not have the condition of interest. EtG testing has a high sensitivity, that is it has a high probability of correctly identifying as positive an individual who has recently relapsed. However, it also has a low specificity, that is it has a high probability of showing as positive a person who has not recently consumed alcoholic beverages. For example, research has shown that use of everyday items such as bug spray, mouth wash, various over-the-counter medicines, and hand sanitizer can produce positive results. Additionally, without further research, testing facilities have been unable to arrive at a consensus on the level of EtG that should be considered positive for a relapse. The high level of false positives seriously undercuts its status as a viable test for relapse and can easily lend itself to abuse by monitoring agencies such as the Texas Medical Board or the Texas Board of Nursing (Formerly known as the Texas Board of Nurse Examiners).Continue Reading...
Although initial arrests and convictions for Driving While Intoxictated (DWI) will not ordinarily result in the imposition of a disciplinary sanction against a Texas Nurse, they often do give rise to a stressful and searching investigation by Staff of the Board of Nurse Examiners. This result is due to, on the one hand, the legal fact that under the Nursing Practice Act, many DWI’s do not relate to the practice of nursing, and on the other, the practical reality of the Nursing Board’s zealous policing of what it deems unprofessional conduct (Texas Occupation Code § 301.452(b)(10). A knowledgeable attorney can best secure a positive outcome by ensuring that the correct standard is applied and not substituted by the Board’s personal opinion(s) on what constitutes unprofessional or dishonorable conduct.
Under the Nursing Practice Act the Board can take disciplinary action against a licensee if a nurse has been convicted or placed on deferred adjudication for either a felony or a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude. (Texas Occupation Code § 301.452(b)(3)). An individual’s first two DWI’s are misdemeanors under the Texas Penal Code with the third and all those thereafter rising to felonies. From a legal standpoint, however, the Nursing Board’s broad discretion to take disciplinary action under the Nursing Practice Act is limited by the Texas Occupation Code’s prescription that discipline can only be imposed if the felony or misdemeanor “directly relates to the duties and responsibilities of the license holder.” (Texas Occupation Code § 53.021). In deciding this issue, the Board must weigh certain factors such as “the relationship of the crime to the purposes for requiring a license to engage in the occupation” and “the relationship of the crime to the ability, capacity, or fitness required to perform the duties and discharge the responsibilities of the licensed occupation.” (§ 53.022)
Board Staff’s policy, however, is to initiate an investigation into a nurse’s fitness and character if they have two or more criminal arrests for alcohol or drug related offenses in a lifetime. Board Staff does not seem to differentiate between arrests, deferred probations, regular probations, dismissals and final convictions with respect to opening an investigation. Once the investigation is initiated, Board Staff tries to force the nurse into a forensic psychological evaluation and polygraph test in an effort to determine if the license holder suffers from a DSM IV diagnosis of chemical abuse or dependence. Unfortunately, any other conduct or psychiatric disorder discovered through this battery of questionable discovery is then utilized to stipulate the nurse’s registration. Board Staff is successful in this less than admirable procedure as many nurses think they do not need or can not afford an attorney. Competent, experienced counsel however, can put a halt to this process and mount a successful defense against Board Staff’s position that all criminal conduct is unprofessional and therefore relates to the practice of nursing. Moreover, a knowledgeable attorney will know how to circumvent Board Staff’s insistence that the Nurse undergo an evaluation with a “Board Approved” expert and then submit to the rigors of a “qualifying” polygraph examination.Continue Reading...
The Texas Administrative Procedure Act (APA) offers a ready incentive for a licensee such as a doctor or nurse to seek prompt renewal of their license if they face or expect to face a disciplinary action before their respective state licensing board. Chapter 2001.054 of the Texas Government Code (The Administrative Procedure Act) provides a special rule when the professional’s license renewal is contested by the applicable administrative agency and such agency is required to provide timely notice and an opportunity to be heard, two conditions that apply to virtually every disciplinary action. When such a licensee applies for renewal, their existing license automatically remains in effect until their application has been finally determined by the state agency. Further, if the state agency decides to deny or limit the terms of the new license, the professional’s existing license does not expire until the last day for appealing the agency order or other date set by the reviewing court, whichever is later.Thus a doctor who expects the Texas Medical Board to deny the renewal of their professional license or to take other disciplinary action against them should timely apply as they will still retain and be able to practice under their existing license. The same situation applies to a nurse facing disciplinary action by the Texas Board of Nurse Examiners, an optometrist in front of the Texas Optometry Board, a dentist before the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners, and other licensed medical and non-medical professionals. Continue Reading...
The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 55, Article 55.04 forbids a State Agency from using, questioning an individual about, or in any way releasing information about an arrest that has been expunged pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 55. Moreover, Tex. Code Crim. Proc. § 55.03 provides that the effect of an Expunction Order in a licensure disciplinary proceeding, including the application process, allows for the individual to deny the arrest and the existence of the Order of Expunction. However, the Texas Board of Nurse Examiners (BNE) requires that a licensed nurse or nursing license applicant disclose the existence of the arrest on renewals and initial license applications. It is undetermined if they seek to utilize these arrests against the nurse in a disciplinary proceeding or as a basis for the denial of a license. However, the mere thought that the registration renewals or applications ask about information which if utilized would subject members of Board Staff to criminal sanctions raises a few alarming concerns.Continue Reading...
The Board of Nurse Examiners for the State of Texas received authorization and funding from the legislature to undergo complete criminal history and background checks on every nurse in the State of Texas. Accordingly, every LVN and RN in Texas will be required to submit a fingerprint card to the BNE over the next ten years. The cards will be submitted to the FBI and the Texas Department of Public Saftey for verification and accuracy of the Nurse's identity and criminal history. Ten percent of nurses will be required to undergo this scrutiny per year until all licensees have been evaluated. This has created a marked rise in investigations and disciplinary orders. There are several inherent problems with this process however, and nurses should seek advice from an experienced lawyer before they accept a proposed disciplinary sanction that will mar their record indefinitely.
To begin, the BNE did not acquire jursidiction over deferred adjudications until September 1, 2005. Staff of the Board however, is investigating offenses that resulted in deferred adjudication probations and dismissals that are more than twenty years old. This week alone I received calls from two LVNs who had just such misdemeanor criminal records and were being investigated by the BNE. Board Staff, including the Attorneys, readily admit they did not and do not have substantive jurisdiction over the criminal history, but maintain they are concerned about the conduct or the psychiatric disorder that may be reflected by the offense and the behavior. The fact is both of these nurses have renewed their licenses for the last twenty (20) years and have never been required to reveal this history. Additionally, both have practiced nursing without incident during this period and each has had exceptional performance appraisals from all employers. Why then is the BNE delving into these issues when all of their investigators have such large case loads that they can not adequately work up a case? The answer is simple -Public Image.Continue Reading...
Consider this scenario: You lose your medical (nursing, pharmacist, etc.) license to practice, so you move states in order to escape the ramifications of a surrendered or revoked license.
Unfortunately, the ramifications of your lost professional registration may follow you in the form of an exclusion. An individual subject to an exclusion is significantly limited in her ability to work in the health care profession nationwide. The purpose of the exclusion remedy is to protect beneficiaries of Federal health care programs from incompetent practitioners and from inappropriate or inadequate care. In the broadest sense, a section 1128 exclusion prevents individuals and entities from participation in Medicare, Medicaid and State health care programs. However, this does not affect your rights to participate as a beneficiary (i.e., if you break your arm and Medicaid normally pays, then you can still collect these benefits).
According to 1128(b)(4) of the Social Security Act, an individual may be excluded from participation in any Federal health care program if that person’s license was revoked, suspended, or otherwise lost, or because it was surrendered while a formal disciplinary proceeding was pending before an authority and the proceeding concerned the individual's professional competence, professional performance, or financial integrity. The Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) will generally send you a letter informing you that you may be excluded from health care programs including:
- Veterans Administration
- TRICARE, etc.
The Social Security Act allows the OIG to exercise discretion when deciding whether or not to exclude individuals from participating in Federal health care programs. Even if the OIG decides to exclude you, they also have discretion to determine the length of the exclusion. Of course there are guidelines and considerations, such as:
- the nature of the act that gave rise to the exclusion;
- length of license suspension;
- criminal history, and;
- the availability of other sources of the type of health care services furnished by the individual.
The Board of Nurse Examiners for the State of Texas (BNE) evaluates applicant's for RN and LVN licensure per the Nursing Practice Act and the Nursing Board's Rules found in 22 Texas Administrative Code Sec. 217.11 et al. Per the Nursing Practice Act, Board Staff has the ability to investigate an applicant's character and fitness to practice Nursing based on indications that an applicant may lack the "good professional character" to be a licensed nurse.
In an effort to weed out poor or marginal applicants Board Staff notifies individuals that due to their criminal, work, mental health or drug use history they must Petition the Board's Executive Director for a Declaratory Order to practice nursing. Then Board Staff (through the Executive Director) requests that they undergo a forensic psychological evaluation with a polygraph test component. Although it is not explicitly stated in the request the implication is that a failure to submit to the "illegally requested" tests will result in a denial of the application for a license.
Although not legally authorized, Board Staff requests these evaluations for crimes that are often thirty (30) years old and that in and of themselves do not relate to the practice of nursing. Moreover, the forensic evaluation and polygraph tests are often nothing more than a fishing expedition to determine if a person has done something in their past to render them ineligible. Oftentimes what is dicovered is then used as the basis for denial even though it is often not legally admissible evidence. The simple truth is JUST Say No to the polygraph and call an attorney.Continue Reading...